YORK — It’s Friday afternoon and preparations for the party are in full swing.
Boxes of red T-shirts emblazoned with the logo — a mountain goat riding a bicycle — are being sorted and folded in preparation for Saturday’s bicycle ride, the York 38 Special.
This isn’t a race, organizers point out, but instead it’s a ride. The course follows some of what used to be the Figure 8 Scenic Drive until rains in 1981 washed out sections of this mountainous road that winds its way through meadows and stands of ponderosa pines. Picturesque views await at nearly every turn of the road as it climbs in elevation.
Before the riders arrive — and organizers say they’re hoping for some 280 as they’ve seen in past years but would like to break the 300 mark — there’s much to be done.
Boxes of supplies in the York Community Hall will be sorted for the riders, including tubes of fizzy tablets that when dropped into water release minerals needed to replace those lost to exercise.
Tiny plastic bags with over-the-counter acetaminophen tablets for back pain and other aches riders might encounter in the 38-mile ride also wait for distribution as do red pack-cloth bags to hold all that participants will receive, which includes a coupon for a free burger and beverage at the York Bar at the finish line.
Susan Shellabarger and her husband, Marty Welch, are here to help out too and are busy packaging the supplies for shipment in the morning to the six aid stations for the bicycle riders.
“This 38 Special’s turned out to be a good thing for the fire department,” Welch says.
“It takes quite a few people to put it on,” he adds as more community residents show up to help.
A pickup pulls up outside and two people begin to carry plastic wrapped cases of bottled water into the hall. Their shoes squeak on the hall’s worn, wooden plank flooring each time they bring in a case of water.
Talking about the course, Welch says, “it used to be a pretty popular drive on Sundays.”
On the coming day, riders will ride the 38-mile route once, or have the option to register to do it twice for 76 miles. Those who want a less challenging ride will be bicycling from York to the Forest Service campground at the end of the road and back, 13 miles in all.
But among all that riders will receive to help them along is something far more ephemeral than the T-shirt and gear, something much more satisfying: homemade cookies and brownies, muffins and bars and breads.
In addition to the fresh fruit, chips, crackers, water and other pick-me-ups that riders will be offered at the aid stations along the route will be homemade peanut butter bars with chocolate frosting; chocolate-chip cookies; rocky road brownies filled with nuts, marshmallows and chopped peanuts; bags of still other cookies; sweet bread; and Karen Kmet’s bananna chocolate-chip mini muffins.
The sweet aroma of these freshly baked muffins fills the hall’s kitchen when she opens the container that holds them.
“Just something quick the riders can take in their hands,” she says of the three dozen muffins she’s baked for the occasion.
She and Julie Johnson will cut up the pans of brownies and bag the cookies for the riders. Mary Dahl is in the kitchen of the hall too and helping to sort and package the treats that will await the riders.
Johnson doesn’t bake, she says, but comes each year to help out. She has called the York area her home, she explains, for 10 years on and off.
Kmet says she has family here in both the community’s fire department and those who are emergency medical technicians — both critical to this remote community that can be 20 miles or more from medical services in Helena.
She can trace family histories here back to 1890. Both the McCreanor and Barney families homesteaded in the area, she says. She needs only to look at the old black-and-white framed photographs on the walls of the community hall to see her relatives.
“I just like to help and I like to bake,” Kmet says. “If that’s what I can do, that’s what I do.
“It’s a fun thing to do and also you’re raising money for the fire department,” she adds.
Planning for the ride begins in February, says Rita Naylor, a trustee for the fire department’s board. Her husband, John, is the assistant fire chief.
She has led the effort to organize the ride for three years. This is its 10th year. Meetings accelerate from once a month to twice monthly as the race date draws nearer.
It’s not a one-woman show, she says and explains, “It’s a bunch of people who come together and have a good time at it.”
People have volunteered for so many years that they don’t need to be told what must be done, she adds.
Everybody volunteers in their own way, Naylor says. Some bake. Some staff the aid stations. Others patrol the roads during the race.
Born and raised in Germany, she met the man she would marry 37 years ago and they’ve been residents here for 15 years.
“We moved here and I love it,” she says.
David Olson is another of those volunteers and helped to carry in the bottled water. He was born and raised here, returning after some 20 years away.
The sense of community in York is one of the qualities that has helped this town endure when other mining communities faded into history decades ago, he says. York has been on the map for 150 years.
The town has survived despite the loss of its elementary school — this happened about 30 years ago — and continues on. Many towns worry openly what will happen if their school closes. Not York.
Exactly what gives York this sense of community that has sustained it is a quality that Olson says he isn’t sure about. But he knows it exists.
Buck Murphy arrives with three covered paper plates of granola bars. His wife made them, he says.
Murphy is a part of the York community and lives at American Bar, about 20 miles from the community hall. He’s also a captain in the fire department, which is responsible for responding to emergencies across a 200 square mile swath of country.
Mutual aid agreements with other fire departments also allow the York firefighters to call for assistance when an emergency exceeds their abilities.
And emergencies can be anything from an auto accident to a fire to a medical issue. Other calls can be just to help those who are elderly back on to their feet after a fall.
Donations, such as what will be received from the bicycle ride, help the fire department with its 17 members purchase the clothing and gear they need that tax funds can’t cover, he says.
At age 60, he’s retired and by his admission one of the older guys in the department. He is, however, far from the oldest. Murphy points to another of the firefighters who’s in the hall to lend a hand and says he’s 73.
Murphy says he’s active in the fire department because the community is so remote.
Joining with others to serve his friends and neighbors, community spirit, is another reason he’s willing to be available when emergencies arise or a distant neighbor calls for assistance.
“I just like the idea of the camaraderie, helping people out,” he adds.
Money from the York 38 Special ride is important, he says, explaining that it may amount to between 15 percent and 20 percent of the department’s annual revenue.
“It’s a great community thing,” he says. “We look forward to doing it. I’ve planned vacations around it.
“We’ll be up at 5:30 to head to the top,” he says of the morning drive up the gravel road to bring supplies to the aid stations in advance of the riders.
And with the dawn, the first riders are not long behind him.
By midmorning, the last three riders on the 38-mile course may be the three women with brightly colored knee-high socks who are peddling their way up the road at a leisurely pace.
Ahead of them are but a few more riders, none bent on watching the clock as much as enjoying the ride, savoring the view.
Blue skies and a cool breeze, warmth on the sunny stretches of the road are what organizers said they were hoping for. The air is sweet with pine in the shade, tangy with dust in the sun.
Jennie Herrin of Helena pauses to have a drink of water and to say she hasn’t tried any of the baked goods yet. She and fellow rider, Laren Carparelli, aren’t quite yet at the second aid station.
They looked good, Carparelli says but doesn’t’ stop to chat.
“I know I’m going to hit them on the top (aid station),” Herrin says. “That will be my reward.”
Another of the riders passes by and says the baked goods are excellent and mentions a lemon bar that he had. His companion says she had oranges as she too passes on the road.
At the next aid station not far ahead, Ryan Schmaltz of Helena pulls in and is delighted to find more of the same brownies that he sampled at the previous aid station.
“This is my favorite,” he says, adding that he’s not sure exactly what’s in it though.
“Is there anything packaged up,” he asks. “That’s my wife and she doesn’t want to stop.”
Empty pans testify to the success of the bakers. Plastic bags on the table at the aid station are now nearly empty of the cookies and brownies and muffins they once held and flutter in the breeze.
Lindsay Richards of Missoula and her husband, Tom Roberts, stop at the aid station to sample its offerings.
“Are these cookies going to appear at the next aid station?” Richards asks. “OK, I guess I don’t need to take any with me.”
They return to their bicycles and prepare to leave.
“Our goal is to finish and have fun,” she says.
“So far we’re doing well,” Tom adds.